I’m a longtime user of TaxAct online tax software for one reason: it’s cheap. After completing my return in the H&R Block At Home software, I took this year’s version of TaxAct for a spin. Call my crazy, but I’ve actually started to like doing my returns twice. Yes, it takes me an extra hour, but it’s a good way to make sure I didn’t forget to include anything and double-check the results. Since it’s free until you file, it doesn’t cost me anything to double-check with a competitor. This year, I found H&R Block’s software much easier to use, which surprised me, but this was also the first year I itemized.

TaxAct Interface

The TaxAct interface is more stripped down than H&R Block, but it’s still easy to navigate. I can easily move between topics and go back to review sections I’ve already completed. If I want to change an answer, it gives me the option to re-answer the questions completely, but displays the old answers for faster click-through. Like H&R Block, it has a status bar in the upper right that offers immediate updates on the amount you owe or are getting back as you answer the questions.

Once again, I had trouble with the lay-out of the questions on my new computer. I opted to key-in the W-2 data quickly rather than using the interview questions, but one section fell below the fold and I completely missed it. I only discovered it because the total deductions from H&R Block and TaxAct didn’t match. So, once again, if you’re going to use the speedy option, make sure you scroll ALL the way down!

Importing Data
TaxAct also offers the option to download your W-2s, but I wasn’t able to. Their system requires some sort of PIN. My employer didn’t provide me with this number, so I had to manually enter the W-2 information. However, since I used the software last year, it transferred over our employer ID information and I only had to change the wage information.

New Homebuyer Credit and Mortgage Deductions
The software offered detailed instructions on qualifying and applying for the new homebuyer credit. It also walked me through the mortgage deductions.

Missed Deductions
It was much easier to miss deductions in TaxAct. In order to find the reminder to include last year’s state tax payment, I had to click a “learn more” box. If I didn’t know to look for it, I might not have checked that box.

Charitable Donations
The charitable deductions interface was in some ways more complicated, and in some ways simpler. In H&R Block, I had to enter each charity on a separate line, but I was able to lump them all together in TaxAct. Then, for charitable goods, I had to lump them all together and determine my own value in H&R Block, whereas TaxAct offered a calculation based on the specific item I donated.

Correcting Errors
Correcting errors is simple in TaxAct. Simply go to the summary and select the section you want to review. Choose the option to review all of your answers and fix your mistakes as you go. It’s fast and simple.

Overall Opinion
Overall, I thought TaxAct was more difficult to use for itemized returns. There were some items where I had to use a calculator to total information before entering it. I also had to enter complete addresses for the financial institutions that sent 1098 forms, although this information doesn’t appear anywhere on the tax return. On the other hand, some things were easier to enter and being able to easily correct errors is important to me. The software is a much more stripped-down offering, but it also has a stripped down price.

The online prices are:

Free for Basic (Federal e-File only, state $14.95)

$9.95 for Deluxe (Federal only, state $8

$17.95 for Ultimate (Federal and State)

I still think TaxAct is great for people who are comfortable completing tax returns and either take the standard deduction or are old hands at filing itemized returns. If this is your first year itemizing, or you’ve had a major life change that substantially affects your taxes, consider springing for the H&R Block software this year. The extra hand-holding could save you money. And don’t forget to enter my H&R Block software giveaway!

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